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Raising the bar at Animal Care Expo 2017 and beyond

Inga Fricke shares her Expo experience, from attendee to part of the conference planning committee

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Animal Care Expo brings together best and the brightest to collectively share knowledge, expertise and experience in order to elevate our entire profession.

Imagine a world where everyone working in animal welfare knows and implements all of the best practices, is up on the latest trends and is maximizing lifesaving to the greatest extent possible. Where there are no groups left behind, struggling or using outdated policies and procedures. Where all of the organizations around you, in your backyard, your state and your region are working collaboratively and effectively. Where everyone is “on the same page.”

That, ultimately, is the goal of Animal Care Expo, our annual conference: to bring together the best and the brightest to collectively share knowledge, expertise and experience in order to elevate our entire profession.

During my time as a shelter employee, Expo was one of the most highly anticipated events each year. I’d always hope I’d be one of the lucky ones selected to attend on behalf of my shelter, and I can still feel the rush of excitement I felt whenever I got the green light to go. I remember checking the Expo website regularly to see if the conference schedule had been posted yet, then pouring over the lineup of sessions, highlighting all of the workshops I was interested in attending and lamenting having to choose between competing sessions. That excitement continued to build as conference time drew near.

I was a full-fledged Expo geek, an “extreme fan.” An example? Once, when Expo was held in Anaheim, California (please don’t remind me how many years ago that was!), I had to walk past the Disneyland entrance every day to get to and from the conference hall. Talk about temptation! But I never once thought about playing hooky from the conference—Expo was my happiest place on earth!

Why? Because at Expo I was more than just a conference attendee—I was part of a movement, surrounded by people who spoke my language, shared my passion and understood the experiences I’d had and the life I lived every day. At the risk of sounding corny, it was a magical experience. I always came back invigorated, refreshed and with pages of notes and plans for implementation of all of the great ideas I’d soaked up (What? Shower curtain rings can be used as both cage enrichment AND as a staff communication tool? Amazing!).

Over the years, Expo has evolved and my relationship to it has changed as well. I’m now on the other side of the fence, part of the team tasked with planning and organizing the conference for the benefit of attendees. But Expo is still a magical experience for me. Planning starts months in advance (literally just weeks after the previous Expo wraps up), with the team reviewing and selecting from among hundreds of deserving workshop submissions. It’s not easy crafting a lineup that speaks to everyone, that will engage first-timers as well as those who have attended from year one, and we take that responsibility incredibly seriously. By the time the registration desk actually opens, we’ve been living Expo for nearly ten months, and in many ways it feels like the end of a very long, very arduous road. But seeing attendees’ faces as they wait patiently in line to sign in, hearing the enthusiastic greetings of those reconnecting with old friends, and watching the excitement as people have their own aha! moments and create their lists of things to implement when they get back home takes me back to my own days as an Expo attendee, and reminds me what all of the hard work is for. And just when exhaustion is about to take over, I hear attendees say “That was best Expo ever!”, and I am reminded that presenting Expo is not a job, it’s a privilege. And I know that when the team regroups in just a few short weeks to begin planning for the next one, our collective goal will be to raise the bar even higher.

Expo keeps getting better year after year, and Expo 2017 will be no exception. We have an amazing lineup of sessions that will inform and inspire you, regardless of whether you are an executive, an animal caretaker, a rescue group volunteer, an ACO—anyone who lives to help animals! And over the course of the next few months we’ll be announcing “extras,” including information about our amazing keynote speakers, our special session and much more that will only increase the anticipation and excitement I know you’ll be feeling.

If you haven’t been to Expo yet, you need to come—join your tribe! Learn from those who have so much to share! And if you’ve been lucky enough to have already experienced Expo, don’t just come back—bring someone else, ideally someone from a nearby agency who wouldn’t come otherwise. Learning and sharing the Expo experience together—that’s how we get everyone on the same page.

Do you have suggestions as to how we can continue to raise the bar at Expo 2017 and beyond? Let us know in the comments below!


About the Author

Inga Fricke is the former Director of Sheltering Initiatives and Outreach at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).  She has served on the Board of Shelter Animals Count, a non-profit organization formed to create and share a national database of sheltered animal statistics, and as Chair of the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators’ CAWA Exam Preparatory Resources Committee. Prior to joining The HSUS, Inga served as Administrator of the Wyandot County Humane Society/H.O.P.E. Clinic, helping to found the Wyandot County Equine Rescue, and as Shelter Manager for Loudoun County Animal Care and Control.